When it comes to wine – almost everything you have been told about it could be wrong. Most wine myths are born of snobbery and incomplete information and have little to do with wine reality. Many of us, it’s true, like to collect arbitrary bites of information and store them safely in some neat and orderly pigeonhole. But while there is a definite empirical science to it, wine is also something amorphous and changing and unwilling to be pinned down. As well as science, it can also be alchemy, craft, inspiration and poetry.
So let’s look at some common misconceptions about our favorite beverage —
Expensive wines are best.
Well, expensive wine is often (though not always) very good. What is “best” is rather subjective. The price of a wine is indicative of quality, but it is often also a matter of rarity – only a certain number of grapes are grown in a specific vineyard in a specific year and if you wish to partake in that experience you have to pay the cost. So price also has a lot to do with demand. And yes, certain wines have a mystique that – warranted or not – turns them into trophies for people who care about such things. The BIG QUESTION to me is – does anyone want to drink the best wine all the time? Wine is like music to me – I like different styles according to different moods and surroundings. And while I’m quite sure that Beethoven is better than Taylor Swift, I’m glad that there is room to enjoy both. Likewise a $10 bottle of dry rosé can sometimes please me more than a wine that costs much more.
Old wines are best.
Actually 90% of wines, reds and whites, are meant to be drunk tonight or within the next 3-5 years. Some will last a few years more. But only very exceptional wines are capable of aging 15 to 25 years and longer. The BIG QUESTION here is how old are you? and will it be worth the wait?
There is a perfect time when a wine is at its optimum for drinking.
This piggy-backs off the previous myth, and once again when a wine is at its best is a subjective judgment. Not only that but there can be a variance in each bottle of the same wine from the same winery from the same vintage, depending on how and where the bottle was stored. So you take a chance and sometimes you will open the bottle a little too soon, sometimes at the optimum time, sometimes too late. In the end it’s all a gamble, but one that can be fascinating if you consider that you’re exploring a few pages from the life-diary of a bunch of grapes.
If the vintage is regarded as bad, the wine will be bad.
Not true. Bad vintages will come and go. Generally they are only a challenge to the talent and skill of the winemaker. If the winemaker is an artist, then each year offers a palate of varying colors. Some years the colors may only be black and gray but the true artist will still come up with something interesting even from a limited palate.
Think about this. Look down the neck of the bottle and see how much of the wine is allowed to breathe – an area about the size of a nickel. Up to a point air is good for many wines, bringing forth more articulated aromas and flavors. In this case it’s best to let the air get to it by decanting or letting the wine breathe in a wineglass.
We will look at five more wine myths right here in two weeks.
Bill Stobbs, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine & spirits supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwinebills